Cesar Azpilicueta Beard 0909

Cesar Azpilicueta spoke to the media after Chelsea beat Barcelona yesterday, but for a man with a trophy in his hands who’s just beaten one of the giants of world football, he held a surprisingly conservative outlook.

In quotes carried on the club’s official website, Azpi pointed out that while they were happy to beat Barca, they were equally disappointed to lose against Kawasaki Frontale last week, after playing well and conceding a late goal.

That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from a player who holds himself to the very highest standards.

The Spanish right back’s performances have increasingly been called into question over the last 12 months by certain groups of Chelsea fans. Tweets like the following were doing the rounds for long periods last season, and even more crept onto Twitter after the loss on Friday:

A “hard decline”? “Absolutely atrocious” one on one? “Worst in the league” partnership with Marcos Alonso? And then even someone calling into question Frank Lampard’s integrity before he’s managed a game for the club. That’s Frank Lampard, club legend and famous good bloke. It’s immediately apparent how silly this all is when you take it all in for a second.

There’s no doubt Azpilicueta didn’t have his best year last year, and in fact his levels have been down from his very peak for a couple of seasons now. But there are plenty of caveats – very few players were at their best under Maurizio Sarri for one, and for another his decline has more been a result of the incredible standards he set beforehand, as one of the best defenders in the last ten years of the Premier League.

You can say he had a bad year, but to say he’s reached an inexorable decline is very premature.

It’s the inevitable cycle of football fandom – everyone wants to be the first to write off a player to show that they were ahead of the curve on spotting their drop-off. And given no player can keep going at the top level forever, they are always able to prove themselves right eventually.

The emergence of Reece James as an option at right back has certainly increased the pressure on the club captain, but anyone who is telling you he’s finished is playing a dangerous game. He was back to his brilliant best against Barcelona, and for a player as determined and competitive as Azpi, the arrival of a young buck to take his place seems more likely to draw even higher levels of performance out of him.

Write him off at your peril. Time waits for no man, but if there’s one thing we know about Azpi, it’s that he won’t be going down without a fight.

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